info2000 logo GREEN PAPER ON PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMATION
IN THE INFORMATION SOCIETY

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THE SWEDISH NEWSPAPER PUBLISHERS ASSOCIATION


The Swedish Newspaper Publishers Association, which respresents the daily press as well as other media companies in Sweden, has been invited to present its answers and comments to this Green paper. We are grateful for this opportunity and hereby send you our comments and answers.

General comments

There are, roughly, three main interests that are at stake:

1) The citizens who need free and easy access to official documents - and who are given this right, although vaguely, through the Amsterdam Treaty. It is obvious that this is the key to the creation of a "Citizens Europe" and to the involvement of the citizens in the development of the union and the European demcratic society.

2) Public sector bodies and institutions which want to develop its products and services beyond the raw material and to which this is an important way of financing.

3) Private interests which want to freely take part of and develop and refine official data and documents and make money out of this.

It is clear that the citizens risk to become the loosers in this race. A major point is therefore that the prime issue must be to secure the citizens rights. If this is not done properly and before other interests are considered the whole issue will become a backlash. Item 45 in the Green Paper describes the whole conflict rather well.

2) The questions

Question 1: Which definition of public sector is the most appropriate in your view? 
What categories of public sector information should be used in the debate?

The functional approach is the most appropriate definition.

It is not the task of governments to judge whether information is "essential" or not - this is up to the citizens. Therefore, any information provided by bodies that are subject to the functional approach should also be covered by the definition of public sector information and citizens should have the right of access to this information. Some excemptions from this right to access might however be necessary, like in cases of interests of third parties, interests of the state and so on.

Q 2: Do different conditions for access to public sector information in the Member States create barriers at European level? 
If so, what elements are concerned; requirement of an interest, exemptions, time, format, quantity?

What solutions can be envisaged?

The national systems may differ in many ways, like excemptions from the right of access, required time to respond to a request for a document, format and quantity, but different conditions in the Member States for access do not create barriers as long as information is available on equal conditions for natural or legal persons regardless of their nationality.

It is important not to harmonize in this field. The national solutions for access to public information has long and deep national, regional, historical, cultural and democratic roots. This must be respected.

Q 3: Could the establishment of European meta-data (information on the information that is available) help the European citizens and businesses in finding their way in the public sector information throughout Europé?

If so, how could this best be realized?

What categories of content should directories of public sector information contain?

3)

Directories ("meta-data") are the key to a properly and effectively functioning access to public information. Without directories, it is like searching for an needle in a hay-stack. Each public body, according to the "functional approach", should be obliged to hold an open directory.

Larger meta-data-directories are useful tools, but do not necessarily have to be run by the public sector.

Directories run by public bodies should of course cover all information that is held by that body. It is also important that even if access to a certain document or information could be denied due to restrictions because of its content, the information about the existence of that document/information should be open and available through directories.

Q 4: What bearing do different pricing policies have on access to and exploitation of public sector information?

Different prizing policies in different Member States do create different opportunities for citizens and businesses, but, once again, as long as national legislation treat all european citizens or businesses equal regardless of nationality the problem does not occur.

Prizing policies do have a large impact on access as well as exploitation of public sector information. The US prizing policy - meaning that search, duplication and review costs can be charged at a "self-cost-model" but not the costs for the value added by the public sector to the raw data - might be useful to consider here. On the other hand one can argue strongly that private interests should not, as a consequence of this, be able to benefit freely of the information that is actually gathered and financed through the tax-payers money.

Q 5: To what extent and under what conditions, could activities of public sector bodies on the information market create unfair competition at European level?

With the US pricing model the competition problem does not occur. However, as mentioned above, this model has some disadvantages. With other solutions, competion problems might occur between activities from commercial and public sector bodies. On the other hand, given the fact that this information is from the beginning gathered and financed with the tax-payers money it is a special situation that can not be treated as a ”normal” competition conflict.

4)

Q 6: Do different copyright regimes within Europe represent barriers for exploitation of public sector information?

Different copyright regimes or differencies in the conditions for exploiting public sector information in different countries might create barriers, but not as long as all citizens and businesses are treated equally regardless of nationality in each country. National differencies must be respected.

It should also be stressed that there are good reasons for the fact that the Bern Convention (art 2 (4)) has left the issue of copyright protection to the Member States in order to respect the differencies from different point of view in each country.

Q 7: Do privacy considerations deserve specific attention in relation to the exploitation of public sector information? 
In what way could commercial interests justify access to publicly held personal data?

Privacy considerations should be made when giving access to the requested information/document at the public body or institution for the first time - and such considerations must be based only on detailed and specific grounds for restrictions that are to be interpreted restrictively.

Commercial interests could of course justify access to publicly held data although the principles of the Data Protection Directive must be considered.

Q 8: To what extent may the different Member States´liability regimes represent an obstacle to access or exploitation of public sector information?

A rather simple principle to avoid such obstacles could be that the applicable law, in cases of conflict, should be the law from where the originally publicly held data originates.

Q 9: To what extent are the policies pursued by the EU institutions in the field of access and dissemination of information adequate? 
In which way can they be further improved?

5)

The policies laid down in the Amsterdam Treaty (art. 191a of the EC Treaty) is an important step, but far from enough. Issues that must be improved and more detailed are time (for responding to a request), restrictions (that needs to be fewer and much more specified, format and the existence (the present lack of the existence) of directories.

Q 10: Which actions should be given priority attention at European level?

As mentioned above, an effective access to public information/documents from a citizens point of view must be secured. The access to value added information from public bodies/commercial interests is not an alternative but can be an important complement to that.

Stockholm, 31 May 1999

THE SWEDISH NEWSPAPER PUBLISHERS ASSOCIATION 
Barbro Fischerström 
Managting Director Per Hultengård 
Director

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